What does ‘core strength’ actually mean? I don’t think there is a specific definition that I feel is totally adequate. The ‘core’ refers to the deep and superficial musculature, joints, diaphragm and connective tissue within our trunk, hips & pelvis and how they all work together. I won’t bore you with technical names but when we talk about ‘CORE STRENGTH’ we are referring to the ability of this musculature to stabilise the spine throughout every type of movement.
So how exactly does one go about strengthening the core and why do we need to? Gone are the days of just planking for as long as you can.. Sure it’s a stability exercise but it’s only targeting one static position, we need out core to stabilise the spine during every type of movement. To train this oh so important region you need to think far beyond planks, crunches & sit-ups; instead you need to challenge your body in different ranges & different planes of movements.
Here are some of my go to core strengthening exercises.
This is a nice and easy one to start with that requires no more than your body and a stopwatch. I also like it because there are several progressions making it a universal exercise that all forms of athlete can gain something from.
- First start flat on you back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor.
- Flatten your lower back into the ground (this is where it must stay for the duration of the exercise). Don’t overthink this one.
- Slowly lift one leg up at a time as picture keeping your back flat and bring your arms up so they are perpendicular with the ground. Maintaining this position is the start for beginners.
- From here there are progressions when you want to challenge yourself. Alternating leg lowers or even more advanced would be to have opposite arm & leg combinations. The key is ensuring that your lower back stays flat against the ground for the duration of the exercise.
- Start with 30 second holds. Once this is easy enough you can increase the time to 45 or even 60 seconds. This exercise is hard even for seasoned ‘dead buggers’ so if it’s boring you, chances are you may not be doing it quite right.
THE HOLLOW ROCK
Another really simple yet effective exercise, this time we are targeting core control with your spine in flexion. Many may be surprised to discover that all core exercises don’t require the spine to be in neutral, but remember what I said about needing the core to be active during all positions of movement. There are levels of difficulty with the hollow rock so make sure you start at a level appropriate for you. See this great article on the different stages that can be worked through.
Beginners > Also known as the STATIC CHAIR we are simply keeping the legs and arms closer to the body. Lie flat on your back, keeping lower back flat into the ground lift your knees to a 90/90 position and raise your shoulders. Hold this position for 10 seconds. Repeat 5 times.
Advanced > Lay face up on the ground with your arms stretched overhead and legs out straight. Raise your arms and legs about 30cm off of the floor and attempt to assume the shape of a shallow ‘C’. Gently begin to teeter back and forth like a rocking disc. Your ability to maintain the ‘C’ shape is crucial in this exercise, aim for upwards of 60 rocks and challenge your endurance. *you should not experience pain in this exercise, if you do you may need to go back to the basic versions & work on your control.
THE PALLOFF PRESS
This exercise forces the core to stabilise your torso against rotation, flexion & extension forces. You will need a cable machine or resistance band for this one.
- Standing side on, grab the band or cable and hold it the front of your chest. You should be positioned roughly an arm’s length from the machine.
- Brace your core > screw your feet into ground, squeeze your glutes and ‘get tight’ through your mid-section.
- Press the cable away from your chest by extending your arms fully, pause for 2-3 seconds then return to start position. Perform 10-15 reps. Don’t forget to repeat facing the opposite direction.
- If you want to challenge yourself you can move your arms forward and in a variety of ways, for example imagine you are writing your name with the handles.
COMPOUND WEIGHT – LIFTING
This encompasses the workout staples such as squats, deadlifts, walking lunges, overhead presses among others, as they all aid in developing functional core strength. Remember it’s the ability to stabilise during all movement patterns. These exercises can be done with a barbell but there are a heap of great ways to tinker with the standard versions to alter the demands on your core. Think kettle bell squats, medicine ball overhead lunges, or single leg deadlifts.
As always it’s important to ensure you keep the spine neutral when performing all of these exercises. Cue your body into a good position by screwing your feet into the ground, squeezing your glutes and bracing your mid-section, this will facilitate activation of your core muscles and help them to be engaged throughout the movement.
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